Man refurbishes boat bought online for $10

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published June 14, 2017

 Unwin is pictured at the helm of his boat, which he bought off eBay for $10.39.

Unwin is pictured at the helm of his boat, which he bought off eBay for $10.39.

Photo provided by Bruce Unwin

ST. CLAIR SHORES — When a price seems too good to be true, sometimes it is.

But sometimes taking a chance leads to a great story and turning heads every time you hit the water.

The latter was true for Bruce Unwin, of St. Clair Shores, who couldn’t resist a posting on eBay for a 1967 four-seat yellow SRV-170 Sea Ray boat for the unbelievable price of $10.39.

“I’m like, ‘OK, this is ridiculous. ... For that much money, I can take a chance at it,’” Unwin said.

He found the posting in December 2014. The boat was a mess, Unwin said, and looked like animals had been living in it. The classic design, however, and the intact windshield made the drive out to Jackson to pick it up worth it, he said. 

It took Unwin two weeks to thaw the boat out in his heated garage and take it down to the hull. 

“I knew right then and there, this was going to be a big project,” he said. 

The Sea Ray was originally built in Oxford, Michigan, but Unwin took nearly two years to rebuild the boat in his garage in St. Clair Shores, replacing the engine, carpet, seats, upholstery and fuel system. He spent about $8,000 repairing and renovating the boat with parts from all over the country, some still brand new in the box, but dating back decades.

“At this point, I’m going to spare no expense,” he said. “You can’t even buy a used” boat for that amount of money. 

“I have this little gem now; it’s a turnkey boat.”  

He had helped a few other friends over the years fix up old boats, but this was the oldest boat he had ever seen still in solid condition. Although 2017 is its first official season, Unwin was able to get it out on the water a half-dozen times at the end of the 2016 boating season.

“You could park it next to a $500,000 boat, and people will come over and look at my boat because it’s unique,” he said. 

Unwin said it is funny, however, that he ended up paying more for certain items than he did for the boat itself. 

“Also on eBay, I bought an original 1967 brochure that was from the boat, and I paid $20 for that,” he said. 

Unwin, creative director for United Way for Southeastern Michigan, said the boat still didn’t feel finished after all of the improvements and repairs, though. It was still missing a name.

He wasn’t satisfied with all the cliché names for a little yellow boat, however.

“Naming a boat, to me, is a very personal thing. Especially something I put a thousand hours in,” he said. 

Then it struck him that he could name the boat Missing in Action, with a dual meaning — firstly because, “when you’re out in the boat, you’re MIA, you’re gone,” and also in honor of his father, C. Bruce Unwin, a pilot in World War II who was missing in action and held as a prisoner of war.

“He was a second lieutenant and a pilot in the United States Air Force in World War II. He married my mother on a weekend pass and then went over to England, where he was a B-24 bomber pilot and he flew missions over Germany dropping bombs,” Unwin said. 

C. Bruce Unwin and 10 crew members were on a mission when an anti-aircraft shell hit the plane. 

“He literally landed in the town that he had just bombed, and everyone else in the plane was killed. (He) opened his parachute (and was) blown out of the plane and ended up in Germany,” Unwin said. “I have the Western Union telegram to my grandmother, who shared it with my mom. They declared him missing in action” on Aug. 26, 1944.

“About a month later, she gets another Western Union telegram, which says the American Red Cross has declared him a prisoner of war.”

Unwin named his boat “Missing in Action — Dedicated to: MIA•POW USAF Pilot 2nd Lt. C. Bruce Unwin.” His father was liberated by Gen. George Patton about a year after being taken prisoner. 

Unwin’s mother, Marion Unwin, of Lake Leelanau, is 93 years old but still remembers the way she felt after learning that her new husband was missing.

“That was a very, very sad time of my life, when we were first married and he became an officer and he went overseas, and then the next thing I know, he was missing in action,” said Marion Unwin. “He never knew that I was pregnant at the time because he didn’t get the letter. 

“Our daughter was born when he was in prison camp in Germany. I didn’t know if he was dead or alive.”

Marion Unwin said that by the time her husband got home, their daughter, Judy, was nearly 6 months old. 

“When he finally did get back to the States, I said, ‘How do you like her name?’ He said, ‘I would have named her Julie,’ so it was pretty close,” she said. 

Marion Unwin said she was very surprised when she learned that her only son was dedicating the boat to his father and other MIAs and POWs. 

“It was such a nice dedication. I just thought it was so nice, so wonderful,” she said. 

Unwin said he’s happy to be able to honor his father, who died in 2002, in this way. And after two years of work, he’s looking forward to having to find something else to do.

“Hopefully, my free time will be spent going out on a nice, calm day, going into Ford’s Cove, kicking back with a couple Bommarito’s (Bakery) subs and a six pack,” he said.